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Win machine mows Lankans

Johannesburg, March 10: Spicy, emotional and ruthless: It’s an Indian Summer and, now, just a small matter of winning two games for the Sourav Ganguly-led team to repeat 1983.

At the Wanderers, India smashed a diffident Sri Lanka by 183 runs to confirm a semifinal berth. The batsmen, inspired by Sachin Tendulkar, did their bit to reach 292 for six. Later, with the brilliant Jawagal Srinath showing the way, the bowlers fired out Lanka in 23 overs.

Srinath, whose opening spell (7-1-24-4) settled the issue, was adjudged Man of the Match. He dedicated the recognition to a “dear” relative, Hemant, who passed away in Mysore last week. “This is for him,” Srinath announced, remembering a relative who was “more a friend” and died young (in his late 30s).

While Sourav interrupted Srinath to insist his mind wasn’t made up, about the future, the senior pro himself told The Telegraph that he stood by what he said the other day. Basically, that he didn’t have “much cricket left”. Complete retirement, therefore, is on the cards.

That is something for the future. Today, so destructive were the new ball bowlers that Sourav didn’t have to call upon Harbhajan Singh. It’s rare for established teams to be packed off inside 25 overs. Even more rare for a side with Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva.

Their capitulation surprised Sourav, who is now credited with the biggest win (runs-wise) over the Emerald Islanders.

Though not unexpected, given the manner of Pakistan’s annihilation 10 days ago, the Indians still scripted an amazing performance. Long after the defeat, Jayasuriya was probably scouring the neighbourhood for a place to hide. His decision to insert India bombed and it will be difficult for Lanka to move up.

“We played very well... close to a perfect game,” remarked Sourav. It’s been a hard campaign but, as he pointed out, “the tiredness goes when the semifinal of a World Cup is reached.” He added: “Cricketers dream of playing in a semifinal or the final... as I haven’t played either, this is a dream come true.”

Weighed down by the loss, Jayasuriya could say little beyond dismissing a suggestion that his batsmen cracked under pressure. He also didn’t quite agree India should have been set a target.

More upset than the captain was the coach, Dav Whatmore. He declared: “The players are responsible for the situation we find ourselves in. Now, it’s up to them to get us out....”

This evening’s victory was the sixth in succession — a first in 29 years of ODIs involving India. The previous best was five in-a-row, both in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket and the 1987 World Cup.

That the Lankans were short on confidence became evident at the toss itself. Given their requirement, Lanka ought to have batted and then banked on the Chaminda Vaases for quick breakthroughs. Perhaps, they were wary of Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra. Batting second didn’t help. Srinath and Co. bowled a great line and varied the length to tease and torment.

Earlier, Sachin and Virender Sehwag cut the Lankans to pieces and added 153 for the first-wicket. For a change, Sehwag actually capitalised on a start to get his maiden fifty (66) of the World Cup, while Sachin fell three short of his 35th century.

Sachin, it may be recalled, tripped on 98 against Pakistan. He now has nine 90s in ODIs. Had Sachin got the three runs, he would have emerged the No.1 century-maker in World Cup history. Currently, he is tied with Mark Waugh, on four.

Sehwag departed first, bringing Sourav and Sachin together. They continued the excellent work till Sachin exited to an attempted paddle-sweep. Sourav’s (48) departure sparked a procession. At one stage, it looked as if 292 was around 20 short. It proved 183 too many. Now, the Indians are set to play the second (day-night) semifinal in Durban. But before that is the last Super Six fixture, versus New Zealand, on Friday. Beating the Black Caps is Sourav’s focus. full points could eliminate the chance of an India-New Zealand semifinal.

And, yes, there’s that small score to settle: Erasing the black marks earned during the 2-5 defeat in New Zealand two months ago.

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